Mark–recapture may reveal more about ecology than about population trends: Demography of a threatened ghost bat (Macroderma gigas) population

Authors

  • S. D. Hoyle,

    1. 1 Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Queensland, Queensland 4072 (Email: tpople@zen.uq.edu.au), 2Queensland Department of Primary Industries Southern Fisheries Centre, Deception Bay, Queensland, 3Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Rockhampton Shopping Fair, Queensland, Australia
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  • 1,2 A. R. Pople,

    Corresponding author
    1. 1 Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Queensland, Queensland 4072 (Email: tpople@zen.uq.edu.au), 2Queensland Department of Primary Industries Southern Fisheries Centre, Deception Bay, Queensland, 3Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Rockhampton Shopping Fair, Queensland, Australia
      *Corresponding author.
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  • and 1 G. J. Toop 3

    1. 1 Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Queensland, Queensland 4072 (Email: tpople@zen.uq.edu.au), 2Queensland Department of Primary Industries Southern Fisheries Centre, Deception Bay, Queensland, 3Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Rockhampton Shopping Fair, Queensland, Australia
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*Corresponding author.

Abstract

Since European settlement in Australia, the geographical range of ghost bats (Macroderma gigas) has contracted northwards. Ghost bats are thought to occur in disjunct populations with little interpopulation migration, raising concerns over the current status and future viability of the southernmost colony, which has also been threatened by mining activity. To address these concerns, demographic parameters of the southernmost colony were estimated from a mark–recapture study conducted during 1975–1981. Female bats gave birth to a single young in late spring, but only 40% (22–70%, 95% CI) of females bred in their second year, increasing to 93% (87–97%, 95% CI) for females ≥ 2 years old. Sixty-five percent of juveniles caught were female. Annual adult survival ranged between 0.57–0.77 for females and 0.43–0.66 for males, and was lowest over winter–spring and greatest in autumn–winter. Juvenile survival for the first year ranged between 0.35–0.46 for females and 0.29–0.42 for males. Adult survival varied among seasons, was negatively associated with rainfall, but was not associated with temperature beyond being lower in late winter. Poor survival may result from the inferior daytime roosts that bats must use if water seepage forces them to leave their normal roosts. Although these age-specific rates of fecundity and survival suggested a declining population, mark–recapture estimates of the population trend indicated stability over the study period. Counts at daytime roosts also suggested a population decline, but were considered unreliable because of an increasing tendency of bats to avoid detection. It is therefore likely that some assumptions in estimating survival were violated. These results provide a caution against the uncritical use of population projections derived from mark–recapture estimates of demographic parameters, and the use of untested indices as the basis for conservation decisions.

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